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PRAYERS

  for the Journey

  Along THE WAY

 


 

(9) DEATH

 My Lord and my God —

Here I am again, falling down before Your Holy Presence, offering myself and my whole life to You. I thank You for all your wonderful kindness and goodness to me. I thank you for Your great love for me, unworthy as I am to receive Your love and abundant blessings. Here I am again, Lord, trying to perceive and understand Your will and Your Truth — trying to perceive and understand what life is and how we should live. But it seems, Lord, that to try to know what life is and how to live, we must try to know what death is and how to die. But Lord, our secular culture really doesn't like such questions at all, and tries to teach us to think: "Yes, 'it' [the 'd' word - death] will happen to everyone of us eventually, but let's try to ignore and deny this 'unnecessary evil' as much as possible." Lord, in the practice of medicine, the prevalent attitude appears to be: "We must try to force out every last second before we will let someone go, regardless of what is involved." Certainly, I don't mean that we should be cold-hearted and just let people die needlessly without using the medical resources available. What I am uncomfortable about, Lord, is artificially sustaining for months and years, frequently against their will, those (who have insurance) who are essentially corpses, persons who have no chance for recovery, (especially while at the same time denying basic medical care to countless thousands of poor people who want medical care). It seems wrong, Lord, to force the soul to stay in its body when You are trying to call the soul home. Lord, it almost seems as though the medical establishment tries to play God, trying to manipulate life and death, relying only on themselves, instead of working in conjunction with You, the Great Physician of our souls and bodies. I wonder, Lord, can it be that every time someone dies, physicicans and the medical establishment feel as though they are failures, and that they are too painfully reminded that we, too, will be gone someday — we too will die.

It appears, Lord, that even in the churches, this basically godless attitude towards death — that it is the ultimate evil, to be feared and avoided at all costs — prevails. But Lord, it seems to me that such an attitude is so contrary to everything that You teach us in Your Holy Word. You Yourself even willingly accepted death — and a humiliating, degrading and painful type of death at that — to free us from the bondage of death, and from the fear of death, our own and that of our loved ones.

I guess, Lord, that behind the fear and denial of death is the underlying belief and assumption that death means: The End! Fini! No more! But behind this is the further assumption that our bodies are ourselves; we are our bodies. Thus, when the body dies, we die also. But when You died, Lord, You were not dead! You went to 'hades,' vanquished Satan and his power, and released the faithful who had already departed their bodies and were awaiting You, and who were held captive by the Prince of Darkness. So if our true selves are not our bodies, but what traditionally has been called the soul, perhaps what happens in the experience we call "death," is that our souls and bodies separate. After all, this has been the way which most people throughout the world and throughout the centuries have explained and defined "death." The Bible defines death as the separation of the body and soul, such as in James 2:26. Plato repeatedly also refers to death as the separation of soul and body. But it has been in vogue for some time in some contemporary theology to malign this Platonic concept and thereby to debunk fundamental Christian biblical doctrine. But Lord, Your own Resurrection, Your teachings, and the living experience of Your Church for 2,000 years teaches us, yea proclaims, that our souls are our real selves, and that "death" is simply the separation of our immortal souls from our all too mortal bodies.

Lord, it appears to me that everything around us in Your creation, which we call "Nature," demonstrates that life is what is real, while what appears to be death is at least temporary, if not actually illusory. Every autumn and winter we witness the "death" of nature. But the trees and fields are not dead, but "sleeping," like a bear in hibernation, and will come back to life the following spring. Every month the moon "dies" when it disappears, only to be "reborn" seven days later. We can't see the moon during this invisible lunar phase, but we know that it still exists. It seems, Lord, that it only makes sense that the same "conservation of energy" that is observed in physics applies to human existence as well, for humans are also part of Nature. Most people can't see or hear souls after they have departed their bodies, but does that mean the souls cease to exist? Or do they exist in another plane, another realm, another dimension? And is it possible to communicate with these souls who have gone on to the other side before us? After all, Lord, communicating with those who are not in bodies is the premise behind communicating with you and talking with, i.e. praying, to Your holy saints and angels. It seems, Lord, too, that few people who consider themselves Christians even believe in the concept of communicating with Your Holy Ones who have already fallen asleep, no less really praying for people when their souls have separated from their bodies. But then, if our whole lives have been lived believing that our real selves are our bodies, then there is no room in such a belief system for either prayer to saints, prayer for the departed, or the logical consequence — prayer itself, including to You. Then, if one has never given any care for the soul, because one didn't really believe in the soul, it must be a terrible shock after "dying" for such a soul to suddenly find itself without a body, and to try to figure out what has happened. My goodness, Lord, there must be an awful lot of very confused souls wandering about. But Lord, isn't the necessity of caring for and nourishing the soul a central element of the spiritual path that You give to us through Your Church? But how are we going to care for something that we don't believe exists? Oh Lord, it seems that the Devil has made such great victories in convincing people that the soul does not exist, and that "when you're dead, you're dead!"

But maybe, Lord, we are deceiving ourselves and actually speaking wrongly when we refer to someone as "dying." Maybe"death" is a misnomer. I mean, how can someone die and yet be alive? Maybe our terminology is getting in the way of our understanding, getting in the way of our perceiving the Truth. After all, if people are alive after death, then obviously people are not their bodies. I guess, Lord, the word for what we refer to when we speak of ourselves must be our 'soul' or perhaps our 'Mind-Soul.' So maybe some of the other ways of referring to 'death' are actually more accurate, such as "departing," "passing," "passing over to the other side," or the biblical term of "falling asleep," or "reposing in the Lord." Lord, I can remember how I used to think that using such terms were just euphemisms, used to deny the reality of death. But I guess I was the one in denial, denying the reality of  what our true selves really and truly are, and denying the reality of life itself.

Lord, I think of how most civilizations that have existed throughout the world (other than much of our modern western civilization, which considers most other civilizations as "primitive"), have perceived death and life as being two aspects of the same reality; and that from life comes death and from death comes life. And they usually go even further and declare that the departure from this life is to be rejoiced in, for the soul has gone on to the other world (heaven), "where sickness and sorrow are no more," but where there is rejoicing and singing and "keeping festival in the Lord."

So, Lord, how do You wish for us to relate to death — our own and others'? Because You are the Giver and Sustainer of Life, we must imitate You and affirm life and refuse to participate in the ending of any life. Certainly, Lord, we should look forward to returning home to You; but because You are the Giver of Life, and because our bodies are temples of Your Holy Spirit, we should never commit suicide — no matter how much we are suffering — or commit slow suicide, by polluting our bodies with drugs and chemicals or evil thoughts and feelings. And certainly, Lord, we must never do anything to hasten the departure from the body of anyone else, because, among other reasons, they may not be ready to go — only You can determine when a person is ready to depart this  earth realm. Yet, on the other hand, Lord, it seems that when You have appointed for someone to depart, we should accept it and even rejoice in it, because the person has returned home to You. It seems, Lord, that we should leave in Your hands the time schedule of when someone should depart this life to enter the larger life, and when that time comes, we should release the soul, let it go, and pray vigorously to help the soul make what is usually a rather difficult transition — leaving the earth sphere and living without a physical body. We should be peaceful, and pray in order to help the newly departed soul, and not confuse it or tie it to us in the earth sphere.

Lord, please help me to live according to these understndings. Help me to pay more attention to feeding the needs of my soul, than to feeding the wants of my body. Help me to trust You and thereby to accept and to look forward to whatever You bring to me each day, including the departure of loved ones, and my own eventual departure, whenever You call me home. Certainly we mourn the loss of our friends and loved ones because we miss them, but help us not to keep them chained to the earth sphere because of our own selfishness, but to release them and help them to make their transition with the help of our prayers and thoughts. Please, Lord, fill the empty hole left by the loss of a loved one with Your Presence and Love, by Your Joy and Peace. Help me, Lord, to truly live according to Your word: when we die to ourselves everyday, we have nothing to fear when we make our final separation from our physical bodies. Please, Lord, help me to live every day with the awareness of Your Truth that my physical body is only a temporary home for my soul, eventually to be cast off, like getting rid of an old, worn-out coat. But while in my body, please help me, Lord, to remember that my body is a temple of Your Holy Spirit, to be cared for and transfigured. Please help me to fully live the realization that only by daily dying to myself may I truly live. Amen.

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